Shulman’s selfie: a “revolutionary act”
It was a “standout moment for Instagram, the platform dominated by avocados and willowy young women performing post-salad handstands,” said Lucy Siegle in The Observer. Alexandra Shulman, who recently stepped down as editor of Vogue, last week posted a photo of herself in a bikini on holiday in Greece, casually captioned: “Time for the boat trip.” A “social media meltdown” resulted, as people around the world praised her “brave” and “empowering” action. Yes, it seems that “an undoctored picture of a 59-year-old” in an ordinary Boden bikini is an “act of revolution”. Why exactly did it cause such a stir, asked Alison Rowat in The Herald (Glasgow). Because Shulman “looked like an ordinary woman. She had lumps. Bumps. Wobbly bits. Veins. Most gobsmacking of all, she seemed entirely cool about it.” The reaction “tells us something about the First World’s obsession with body image, and the general invisibility of middleaged women”. Shulman is certainly “a very brave woman”, said Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail. But she would have been braver if she had used photos like this one during her 25 years as editor of Vogue – “the same Vogue which encouraged its female readers to conform to a certain glamorous stereotype: impossibly thin, tanned, and devoid of all wobbly bits”. Perhaps, having peddled wildly unrealistic body images for so long, her selfie was “some form of penance” – an apology to the countless ordinary women that she has bombarded with photos of “remorseless physical perfection”. “In fairness to Shulman, she did push the boundaries during her time at Vogue,” said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. On various occasions she took designers to task for using ridiculously thin models. But the fact is that, in her industry, any deviation “from a rigidly policed ideal of beauty – young, skinny, white” is considered unacceptably “commercially risky”. In fact, her own holiday snap makes the point quite clearly. “Put a normal woman in a bikini and it’s obvious how little of the magic is down to the clothes.” Some bikinis “are prettier than others”, but “there’s only so much a few triangles of cloth can achieve”.